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|Weapon||Bow and Arrow, Sword|
Urvi and Ponnurvi (Wives)
son and daughter from Urvi and 4 sons and 4 daughters from Ponnurvi
|Relatives||Kripacharya (maternal uncle)|
In the Hindu epic the Mahabharata, Ashwatthama (Sanskrit: अश्वत्थामा, romanized: Aśvatthāmā) or Drauni was the son of guru Drona and the grandson of the sage Bharadwaja. Ashwatthama ruled the northern region of Panchala, being subordinate to the rulers of Hastinapura. He was a Maharathi who fought on the Kaurava side against the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra War. He became a Chiranjivi (immortal) due to a curse given to him by Krishna.
The deceptive plot of Ashwatthama's supposed death led to murder of his grieving father Drona, who was decapitated while meditating for his son's soul. He was appointed as the final commander-in-chief of the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra War. Overcome with grief and rage, he slaughtered most of the Pandava camp in a single night offensive. He was among the most prominent warriors of the Mahabharata epic, breaching multiple wartime rules of conduct and morality with his egregious employment of divine weapons.
Birth and Life Prior to the War
This section relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (September 2021)
Ashwatthama is the son of Drona and Kripi. He was born in a cave in a forest (in present-day Tapkeshwar Mahadev Temple, Dehradun, Uttrakhand). Drona does many years of severe penance to please Lord Shiva in order to obtain a son who possesses the same valiance as Lord Shiva.
Ashwatthama is born with a gem on his forehead which gives him power over all living beings lower than humans; it protects him from hunger, thirst, and fatigue. Though an expert in warfare, Drona lives a simple life, with little money or property. As a result, Ashwatthama has a difficult childhood, with his family unable to even afford milk. Wanting to provide a better life for his family, Drona goes to the Panchal Kingdom to seek aid from his former classmate and friend, Drupada. However, Drupada rebukes the friendship, claiming a king and a beggar cannot be friends, humiliating Drona.
After this incident, and seeing the plight of Drona, Kripa invites Drona to Hastinapur. Thus, Drona becomes the guru of both the Pandavas and Kauravas. Ashwatthama is trained in the art of warfare along with them.
Later, Drona asked his disciples to give him his Dakṣiṇā; requesting the capture of Drupada. While the Kauravas failed, the Pandavas defeated Drupada and presented him before Drona. Drona took the southern half of Drupada's kingdom, crowning Ashwatthama as king of it.
Role in the Kurukshetra war
Since Hastinapura, ruled by King Dhritarashtra, offered Drona the privilege of teaching the Kuru princes, both Drona and Ashwatthama are loyal to Hastinapur and fight for the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war. Before Dronacharya's death, Ashwatthama visits his father, desiring a blessing of victory that he is denied. Drona advises Ashwatthama to win the war using his own strength and not through a blessing.
On the 14th day of the war, he kills a division of Rakshasas including Anjanaparvan (son of Ghatotkacha). He also stands against Arjuna several times, trying to prevent him from reaching Jayadratha, though is unsuccessful.
Death of Drona
On the 10th day of the war, after Bhishma falls, Drona is named the supreme commander of the armies. He promises Duryodhana that he will capture Yudhishthira, but then he repeatedly fails to do so. Duryodhana taunts and insults him, which greatly angers Ashwatthama, causing friction between Ashwatthama and Duryodhana. Krishna knows that it was not possible to defeat an armed Drona. So, Krishna suggests to Yudhishthira and the other Pandavas, that if Drona were convinced that his son was killed on the battlefield, then his grief would leave him vulnerable to attack.
Krishna hatches a plan for Bhima to kill an elephant by the name Ashwatthama while claiming to Drona it was Drona's son who was dead. Ultimately, the gambit works (though the details of it vary depending on the version of the Mahabharata), and Dhrishtadyumna beheads the grieving sage.
After learning of the deceptive way his father was killed, Ashwatthama becomes filled with wrath and invokes theNarayanastra, against the Pandavas.
When the weapon is invoked, violent winds begin to blow, peals of thunder are heard, and an arrow appears for every Pandava soldier. Knowing that the astra ignores unarmed persons, Krishna's instructs all the troops to abandon their chariots, disarm, and surrender to the weapon. After getting their soldiers to disarm (including Bhima with some difficulty), the astra passes by harmlessly. When urged by Duryodhana to use the weapon again, desirous of victory, Ashwatthama sadly responds that if the weapon is used again, it will turn on its user.
In some versions of the story, like the Neelakantha Chaturdhara compilation, the Narayanastra destroys one Akshauhini of the Pandava army completely. After the use of Narayanastra, a terrible war between both armies takes place. Ashwatthama defeats Dhrishtadyumna in direct combat, but failed to kill him as Satyaki and Bhima cover his retreat.
After the terrible death of Dushasana, Ashwatthama suggests Duryodhana make peace with the Pandavas, keeping in mind the welfare of Hastinapur. Later, after Duryodhana is struck down by Bhima and facing death, the last three survivors from the Kaurava side, Ashwatthama, Kripa, and Kritvarma rush to his side. Ashwatthama swears to bring Duryodhana revenge, and Duryodhana appoints him as the commander-in-chief.
Attack on Pandava Camp
Ashwatthama first kicks and awakens Dhrishtadyumna, the commander of the Pandava army and the killer of his father. Ashwatthama strangles the half-awake Dhrishtadyumna by choking him to death as the prince begs to be allowed to die with a sword in his hand. Ashwatthama proceeds with butchering the remaining warriors, including the Upapandavas, Shikhandi, Yudhamanyu, Uttamaujas, and many other prominent warriors of the Pandava army. Even as some soldiers try and fight back, Ashwatthama remains unharmed due to his activated abilities as one of the eleven Rudras. Those who try to flee from Ashwatthama's wrath are hacked down by Kripacharya and Kritavarma at the camp's entrances.
After the slaughter, the three warriors go to find Duryodhana. After relaying to him the deaths of all the Panchalas, they announce that the Pandavas have no sons with whom to rejoice their victory. Duryodhana felt greatly satisfied and avenged at Ashwatthama's ability to do for him what Bhishma, Drona, and Karna could not. With this, Duryodhana breathes his last, and mourning, the three remaining members of the Kaurava army perform the cremation rites.
Aftermath of the Attack
The Pandavas and Krishna who were away during the night, now return to their camp the next day morning. Hearing the news of these events Yudhishthira faints and the Pandavas become inconsolable. Bhima angrily rushes to kill Drona's son. They find him at sage Vyasa's ashram near the bank of Bhagiratha.
The now triggered Ashwatthama invokes the brahmastra against the Pandavas to fulfill the oath of killing them. Krishna asks Arjuna to fire the brahmashira, the anti-missile, against Ashwatthama to defend themselves. Vyasa intervenes and prevents the weapons from clashing against each other. He asks both Arjuna and Ashwatthama to take their weapons back. Arjuna, knowing how to do so takes it back.
Ashwatthama not knowing the process to retrieve the brahmastra, instead directs the weapon towards the womb of the pregnant Uttara (Arjuna's daughter-in-law) in an attempt to end the lineage of the Pandavas.
Krishna saves Uttara's unborn child from the effects of brahmastra, on the request of Draupadi, Subhadra and Sudeshna. As the child faced a test of life even before being born, Lord Sri Krishna named him Parikshit (Literally "the tested one") and later on this child succeeds Yudhisthira to become the next king of Hastinapur.
A theory is propounded by historians R. Sathianathaier and D. C. Sircar, with endorsements by Hermann Kulke, Dietmar Rothermund and Burton Stein. Sircar points out that the family legends of the Pallavas speak of an ancestor descending from Ashwatthama and his union with a Naga princess. It was the son born from this union, that would have started this dynasty. This claim finds support in the fact that Kanchipuram was where the Pallavas would dwell, and this was earlier a part of the Naga Kingdom.
There is a shrine for Ashwatthama in the famous Ananthapadmanabhaswamy temple of Thiruvanthapuram.
- K M Ganguly (1883–1896). The Mahabharata, Book 5 Udyoga Parva, Section CLXVIII sacred-texts.com, October 2003, Retrieved 2014-02-11
- Staff, India com (4 June 2020). "Mahabharat Mythology: Is Ashwatthama Still Alive Even After so Many Years?". India News, Breaking News, Entertainment News | India.com. Retrieved 28 August 2020.
- "The Mahabharata, Book 7: Drona Parva: Drona-vadha Parva: Section CXCVII".
- "Sanskrit - Asien.net".
- K M Ganguly(1883-1896). The Mahabharata, Book 5 Udyoga Parva, Section CLXVIII sacred-texts.com, October 2003, Retrieved 2013-11-14
- K M Ganguly(1883-1896). The Mahabharatha Book 7: Drona page 478-479 Aswathama defeated Satyaki, Bhima, Drishtadyumna, October 2003, Retrieved 2015-01-13
- K M Ganguly(1883-1896). The Mahabharata Book 10: Sauptika Parva section 8 Ashvatthama killing Dhrishtadyumna, October 2003, Retrieved 2015-04-17
- Stein, Burton (2016). "Book Reviews: Kancipuram in Early South Indian History, by T. V. Mahalingam (Madras: Asia Publishing House, 1969), pp. vii-243". The Indian Economic & Social History Review. 7 (2): 317–321. doi:10.1177/001946467000700208. ISSN 0019-4646. S2CID 144817627.: "...the rather well-argued and plausible stand that the Palavas were indigenous to the central Tamil plain, Tondaimandalam..."
- Vaidya C.V., History of Medieval Hindu India, pg.281
Original text online (in Sanskrit)